Species with the spookiest names—and how they earned them

From screaming armadillos to ghostly knifefish, feast your eyes on these creepily-named, wild-looking creatures

By Benji Jones
Published 28 Oct 2018, 21:35 GMT

A worm sounds pretty innocuous. But what about a bone-eating snot-flower? That’s a creature you might think twice about.

The bone-eating snot-flower is, in fact, a real species of marine worm, roughly translated from its scientific name Osedax mucofloris. And it’s just one of many animals with a marrow-chilling moniker.

In this case, the title is accurate and descriptive: the worm’s mucous-covered body, which looks something like a blossom, can be seen sucking down sunken whale carcasses—what it eats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The same can be said for species like the screaming hairy armadillo, which (prepare yourself) really screams.

But other frightening names are tied, perhaps unfairly, to looks alone. And they demonstrate a reverence for mythology. Take the vampire squid from Hell, for example, translated from its scientific name Vampyroteuthis infernalis. The cephalopod is neither a vampire—it doesn't suck blood—nor a squid. Instead, its name derives from the deep-sea dweller’s unusual blue eyes, red skin, and cape-like webbing between its arms.

Dozens of other animals fall in the same category like the satanic leaf-tailed gecko, the devil’s flower mantis, and the ghost ant. Each has some physical characteristic, whether horn-like protrusions or translucent limbs, earning it a place in the (metaphorical) animal underworld

But if these names reference monsters of mythology, many others highlight fear of the earthly animals themselves. The name Ursus arctos horribilis was given to the grizzly bear, for example, a nod to Meriwether Lewis’ frightening encounter with the enormous animal out West, during the Lewis and Clark expedition. There’s also Crotalus horridus horridus, or “dreadful dreadful rattle”—a type of timber rattlesnake so terrifying they had to name it twice! (Well, not exactly: the double name allows scientists to distinguish it from other subspecies).

No matter how spooky their names, however, these animals pose little threat to humans. Vampire bats have bitten people on occasion. So, too, have the so-called 'horrible' grizzlies. But these bears—like some other animals on this list—actually need protection from humans, rather than the other way around. For the most part, these titles are chosen because they capture the imagination of scientists—and, of course,the general public.

Read More

You might also like

These are our best animal photos of 2020
These 50 animals are in peril. Here’s how you can help.
New Pinocchio frog species has a strange, pointy nose
Like chess players, these crows can plan several steps ahead
Dive into the overlooked world of freshwater animals

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved